Ogden • One entrepreneur's dream to open a live music venue in a struggling neighborhood strip mall is on hold as he works to craft a citywide zoning amendment that city officials can support.
Earnie McKown owned and operated the Paris Cafe in downtown Ogden earlier this year, but had to shut down his business because of rent and utility costs that were too high.
Last week, he appeared before the City Council with hopes of gaining approval to host live entertainment in a vacant storefront he now leases in the Harrison Plaza Shopping Center at 32nd Street and Harrison Boulevard.
"We're not talking about throwing huge rock concerts," McKown told council members. "We're talking about acoustic performances … low-key, live entertainment."
His nonalcoholic social club, outfitted with an espresso bar, dart boards and pool tables, would serve as an after-school hangout for teens, then at night would showcase area talent, whether it be musical, comedic or even poetic.
"We're catering to teenagers, but we're also catering to members of the community who aren't interested in going to bars," McKown said, adding that he's had several bands approach him, wanting to perform.
The city's planning commission had previously voted 6 to 1 against his petition, fearing that the new use would cause problems in other strip malls and shopping centers throughout the city where live concerts might not be a good fit.
McKown currently has permission to operate a lodge or social hall at the Harrison site, but those terms are not clearly defined in city code. But without live performers in the evenings and the associated cover charges they bring in McKown said it is difficult to pay the bills.
In McKown's draft petition, he agreed to several restrictions. He won't operate within one block of an assisted living facility. He'll offer live entertainment only between 5 p.m. and midnight. Entrances and exits for his venue won't be within 150 feet of homes and no alcohol will be consumed on the premises. And lastly, sound within 100 feet of an entrance or exit won't exceed 65 decibels before 10 p.m. and 60 decibels after 10 p.m.
Todd Stewart, who manages the Harrison Plaza property for Utah Great Western Associates LLC, said he supports McKown's endeavor.
"I like the fact that it's non-alcoholic," Stewart told the council, adding that he has a difficult time understanding the big concern between live entertainment and a DJ who plays recorded music the latter use would be allowed under McKown's current permit for a lodge or social hall.
Stewart said on Friday that McKown was trying to be a good citizen by asking the city to clearly define live entertainment.
In March, Stewart sought council approval for storage units in another portion of Harrison Plaza. At that time, he described the decades-old strip mall as the ugliest shopping center in the city.
"We've repainted it since, so its not the ugliest anymore," Stewart said, adding that the space McKown will occupy housed a Chuck E. Cheese franchise many years ago, but has since been difficult to rent. However, he believes it would be ideal for McKown's purpose.
"It's up in the neighborhoods where the kids are," Stewart said, referring to the plaza's location near Ogden High School, Mount Ogden Junior High School and residential areas east and west of Harrison Boulevard.
But city officials worry about the ability to control after-hour noise that could spill over into neighborhoods.
While poetry readings, live acoustic music and stand-up comedians could likely work, council members were flummoxed about exactly where to draw the line when it comes to live bands and amplification.
Salt Lake City offers live entertainment venues that have separate alcoholic and nonalcoholic sections such as Club Sound and In the Venue however, those clubs do not border neighborhoods.
"It seems like we have some vagueness in our ordinance," said Councilman Richard Hyer, urging further refining of their definitions.
The council ultimately denied McKown's petition but left the door open to revisit the issue with better parameters in place.
"I can understand the city's point," McKown said, still determined to work with the city to nail down definitions that will allow his all-ages music venue to function in the Harrison Plaza location.
"A city with a vibrant music scene affects the economy, fashion, merchandise everything," McKown said.